Fast-forward almost thirty years and I realized the pounds that had been steadily creeping up on me weren't going to disappear on their own. I needed to get serious about my health before I started following in my mother's footsteps with osteoporosis, high blood pressure and pre-diabetes. It was time to get to the gym.
Even though I knew I had to start working out, it took a few days to psych myself up and actually set foot in the gym. All of the old memories started playing in my head. Would I make a fool of myself? Would people laugh at me? How was I ever going to figure out all of that equipment? Maybe I should forget about the whole thing and resign myself to accepting my body the way it was, instead of putting myself through all this mental torture.
Then I realized that most of the problems I had in gym class all those years ago stemmed from my lack of knowledge. I didn't remember a teacher ever explaining the rules of baseball and I was too shy to ask, so when the ball came my way I simply ducked because I didn't know what to do. But now as an adult, I was much more confident and had the power to ask questions. I could do this!
I chose the gym closest to my home so I wouldn't have an excuse not to go. Since it was within walking distance, I could never bail out of an exercise session because it was too much trouble to get there. So with new cross-trainers in hand and only slightly shaky knees, I signed up for a one-year membership.
My representative immediately put me at ease by giving me a tour of the facility and explaining all the rules and protocol. After showing me how to operate the cardio equipment (treadmill, elliptical, and stationary bikes), she left me on my own to find what I was most comfortable with. I selected the treadmill-I could already walk, so it seemed the natural choice for a beginner. Thirty minutes later I was sweating and happy. Even though I had stumbled a few times before getting into the rhythm of the machine, nobody had laughed at me or even seemed to notice. This gym thing wasn't so bad after all!
I started going three times a week and noticed the same people there most of the time. This made me feel even more comfortable because even though I didn't know these people personally, I wasn't around total strangers anymore. It even got to the point of nodding a hello to the woman on the next treadmill or commenting on something we had both seen on the TV as we worked out. I felt like I was part of a tribe of people who were all trying to reach the same goal-physical fitness.
I made a lot of progress over the next few months but I still felt a little insecure around people in tip-top shape. All it took was a scan around the room to find a whole range of body types and fitness levels and I felt better. I was doing okay.
I ran into an old friend about six months after I started going to the gym and she was impressed by the changes in my body. I was noticeably slimmer and carried myself with more confidence. When she found out that I went to the gym regularly, she shook her head and said she would never be able to do it-she hated the whole idea and wondered how I had managed to become such a fan. It wasn't hard to give her a list of reasons why I love going to the gym:
- Social enrichment. I love being around people who are trying to improve their health. We share the same ideals and values.
- Year-round exercise. I used to walk outside when the weather was good but stayed in at the slightest sign of rain or snow. Going to the gym meant not being limited by Mother Nature.
- Expert advice. Personal trainers are always right there to check my form and make suggestions. No more flying blind when trying to use a piece of equipment for the first time. I even had a personalized routine created with regular check-ins every 6-8 weeks.
- Classes. With a wide variety of group fitness classes available each week, I can choose between any of them and never get bored. For instance, I might go to kickboxing one week and take a step class the next.
- Nutrition education. My gym often offers sessions with a registered dietitian who gives solid advice on how to eat better.
- Variety of equipment. A gym offers much more equipment than I could ever afford to buy-and much better quality too.
- Goal setting. Setting a goal to lift a certain weight and achieving it is a great confidence booster. If I can do this, what other things can I do?
- Self-acceptance. Seeing people of all shapes and sizes helps you accept your own figure even if you need to lose a few pounds or haven't exercised in years.
- Daycare. Many gyms offer affordable, onsite daycare services, so parents of small children can exercise without scrambling to find a babysitter.
- Fun! As children, we naturally exercise because we see activities such as running or playing volleyball as fun, not work. When you adopt the attitude that a fitness class is fun, you can look forward to exercise instead of seeing it as one more thing on your to-do list.